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Will LTE be the eventual mobile broadband winner?

If it can fight off UMB and WiMAx...

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The board of the GSM Association voted to back LTE (Long-Term Evolution) as the mobile broadband standard to succeed HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access), the CEO of the group said this week.

The vote is an indication that GSM operators are united in their support for LTE, and gives them a unified front as LTE competes with Qualcomm Inc.'s UMB (Ultra Mobile Broadband) and with WiMax, backed by the computer industry, to become the next mobile broadband technology.

LTE is several times faster than HSPA and could help spur demand for more downloading over cellular networks (as well as other data services such as VoIP). Japan's NTT DoCoMo may become the first operator to widely deploy the new technology, which was tested successfully this month and is expected to be ready by the end of this decade.

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LTE is now part of the GSMA push to promote the use of mobile broadband on cellular networks.

Rob Conway, chief executive of GSMA, announced the association's backing of LTE during a speech at the GSM Association's Mobile Asia Congress in Macau, China, and called on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the leading United Nations agency for communication technologies, to ensure the industry wins the spectrum needed to offer mobile broadband.

GSMA said it will work with other companies and organisations developing LTE technology, and start working with the NGMN (Next Generation Mobile Networks) initiative.

NTT DoCoMo is pushing aggressively ahead with plans to speed up its mobile broadband services in Japan, and is looking to LTE to take care of the job. The company counts over half of Japan's mobile subscribers as its customers and has already started running tests on LTE technology to become its "Super 3G" offering. One advantage to LTE is that it can be used on existing 3G networks.

Download speeds on Super 3G could reach up to 300 Mbit/s, Masao Nakamura, the CEO of NTT DoCoMo, said in a speech, a huge improvement over HSDPA. A 500-page magazine, for example, takes 3 minutes to download on HSDPA. On Super 3G it takes only three seconds, he said.

That means people will be able to download larger file sizes, including videos, music and more over their mobile phones.

A problem for NTT could ultimately be government allocation of the radio spectrum that operators need to deliver wireless broadband. There may not be enough bandwidth available on some of the spectrum the Japanese government is considering for mobile network operators, said K. Jay Miyahara, corporate chief engineer of the mobile network operations unit at NEC Corp.

"What technology [DoCoMo] ultimately uses depends on the spectrum they get," he said. Certain technologies, including HSPA and LTE, can be used only in certain spectrum. The 800MHz spectrum would be ideal, but most Japanese companies expect to be allocated 700MHz, Miyahara said.

DoCoMo hopes to attract users by allowing them to pay a flat rate for speedy downloads. "We want people to use their mobile phone for everything, but we think that if they worry too much about their bill then they won't use this download feature," Miyahara said. "So the answer is to offer a flat rate service, and then people won't worry about their phone bill."

NTT DoCoMo is Japan's largest mobile phone service provider, with 53.7 percent of the nation's 99 million mobile users subscribing to the company. Nearly 80 percent of DoCoMo subscribers have already switched to 3G (third generation mobile telecommunications) service from 2G, Nakamura said. The nation is considered a world leader in 3G and mobile phone services.

DoCoMo is also researching 4G (fourth generation) mobile technology. When it's commercialised, 4G will promise 1 Gbit/s (gigabit per second) download speeds, said Nakamura, but in testing DoCoMo has achieved speeds as high as 5 Gbit/s.

Testing on LTE is expected to be finished by 2009, said Matthias Reis, head of the LTE business program at Nokia Siemens Networks. Operators are currently using HSPA, and starting to roll out HSPA+ and IHSPA (Internet-HSPA). By 2009, testing will be done and operators will be able to start rolling out the technology, he said.

Meanwhile the GSMA continues to back current generation wireless technologies. Separately Tuesday, in partnership with Microsoft, it announced a contest to design laptop PCs with HSPA-enabled chipsets to make it easier for the average user to access the Internet via a mobile network. The hope is that users will begin to use mobile phone networks to download information to more devices other than just handsets, such as laptops, digital cameras, digital music players, and more.


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